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Adjusted: Chapter One -- Excerpt
“Just take a deep breath, Veronica,” I whispered aloud. I looked at myself in the mirror. This is thirteen year-old me.
I wiped my soaked cheeks and closed my green eyes.
Everything was falling apart. My parents died less than an hour ago. Besides my Aunt Rose, they were the only family I had left.
I turned on the sink and splashed water on my face. In my reflection, my tears blend with tap water and droplets rolled down my face, meeting at my chin. They linked together to create a larger droplet.
Then it fell.
It was like slow motion. It splattered against the granite sink top with a tiny ploop to intensify the unimaginable dramatic tension.
With a sob, I walked to the corner of the practically empty half-bathroom. I leaned against the wall and slid down it on my back. As I sat there, I pulled my knees to my chest, hoping to hold myself together.
It was just less than an hour ago that Aunt Rose was rushing me to the hospital. She had gotten a call from someone saying we needed to get there ASAP. Something happened to Ma and Pa. When we got there, it had been too late. Ma and Pa were in the morgue waiting for someone to claim their dead, lifeless bodies.
I guess the ice on the road left the car spinning, dangerously, as Pa panicked and tried to get the vehicle back to where it needed to be. They went off the shoulder of the road and Pa quickly attempted to swerve back onto the pavement. The tire was caught and the car flipped several times. When the ambulance arrived, my parents were unconscious but, thankfully, breathing.
Now, here I sit on the dirty floor of a bathroom in a hospital, curled up, alone.
Three soft knocks on the door made my head snap up in surprise. I stayed silent, thinking it was my imagination; a hero coming to save the pedestrian. Maybe it was Aunt Rose telling me my parents were actually alive, breathing, and well. But I didn’t want to see her and/or hear that right now. I wasn’t sure if I could handle any news right now. I just didn’t want to see anyone.
“Veronica,” a voice mutters on the other side. “V, let me in.”
I knew that voice like the back of my hand.
I sucked in a deep breath and shot for the door. Fumbling with the lock, I opened the door and flew into Anthony’s welcoming arms.
He shushed me quietly and urged me back into the restroom. Sobs were escaping every part of me as tremors shook my body violently in a fit of depression and despair.
“Talk to me,” he whispered and wiped my tears.
“No, no. You talk to me. Get my mind off of this… all of it. Take me to a different world, far, far away. A world where no one can reach me. I don’t want to be here.” I pulled myself closer as my vision blurred from the fresh tears. “Tell me about your day; tell me news; tell me something to make me feel okay again.”
His hands moved up and down my back-- gentle, smooth. From the rise and fall of this chest, I could tell he was sighing.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmured.
I rolled my hidden eyes. “Thanks, but please tell me something I’ll believe.”
“You of all people should believe anything I say, Veronica.”
“Please, Anthony,” I breathed. “I don’t need one of your pep-talks. Definitely not right now.”
I pulled away and walked as far away as I could from him. I rested the left side of my face against the wall opposite from where he stood, watching intently.
“I like the coldness of the wall. It’s comforting, believe it or not. I always ask myself, ‘Is it chilly in Heaven? Maybe it’s a few degrees warmer in Hell.’”
“What are you talking about?” Anthony questions.
“I’m just wondering what it’s like to die. If I go to Heaven, will it be cold there? Or if I go to Hell, will it be scorching hot there?” A tear ran down my cheek.
“Do not talk like that!” Anthony snapped. His cold, harsh voice threw spears through my heart.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s just the depression speaking,” I reply with my jaw clenched.
“The depression needs to shut the hell up.”
I pushed off the wall and faced him again. “I may have temporarily lost some of my marbles, but I still have about half a bagful.”
“You need to think happy thoughts. If you don’t’ keep your chin up, you’re never going to be able to let it go.”
Anger shot through me. If I weren’t so weak right now, my hands would be around his throat.
“My parents just died,” I clarify. “You really expect me to brush it off like it’s nothing?”
“Not necessarily. But you could try to tell yourself they’re in a better place. Considering Heaven is probably far better than Hell or even Earth.”
I roll my eyes in disgust. “There’s only one way to find out.”
Anthony opened his mouth. I waited for the bitter words to escape, but nothing released his lips. He just stood there, gawking. After a few moments, he stepped closer to me and reached out.
“Don’t touch me,” I whispered. This time I yelled it. “Just don’t touch me!” My eyes started to sting again and I slid onto the floor, my back against the wall. “Just…don’t..”
The words came out in trembling sobs. I could feel my heart drop to my stomach. Hallow, empty, alone. I grabbed my hair in fists.
I want to go far away.
When I close my eyes, I imagine a better place. A place where everyone’s caring and understanding; a place where everyone lives forever and no one dies. Maybe even worries are forbidden there.
But this is the real world, no matter how disgusting and vile those words are.
I felt Anthony slide down next to me.
“I won’t touch you, but I will talk to you. If you want me to, that is.”
I sniffed and wiped my soaked cheeks. “I’m not sure about what I want right now. Currently, all I know is that things will just get worse.”
“Oh, you don’t know what, Veronica. Things will eventually get better. All you need is a little faith and inspiration. Then again, you’ll always have me. I promise.”
He put his arm around me and I leaned into him. He was the bestest friend ever.
We’ve, technically known each other since birth. He’s six months older than I am. Our mothers were best friends since college. I literally thought of his mom, Carol, as another one of my mom’s. Aunt Rose and Carol are alike in a way. They’re both great listeners, that’s for sure. They are always interested in what I have to say. I tell them everything. Most of the time, I think the only reason why they love to listen to my adventures is because they miss being kids themselves. But sometimes it’s hard to tell.
A few weeks after my parents’ death, funeral, tears, and sorrow, I moved in with Aunt Rose. I was slowly adjusting to my new home life. I even tried to erase my old life completely. I spent the weekends with Anthony and his parents. We’d hang out and Carol would take us shopping sometimes. I used to like to think that they were actually my real parents and that Anthony was kind of like a brother in some ways. Yes, I’ve thought I might’ve had a minor crush on him. At times, I felt as if I should just lean in and kiss him. Although, that might lead to making the rest of our lives plain awkward.
But there’s nothing wrong with temptation.